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Surfing the Internet in Bali: Reflections on IGF 2013

Joe Alhadeff

It's been a busy week for the Internet. More famous for its golden beaches, Bali recently hosted the eighth Internet Governance Forum which delivered waves of constructive discussion and debate.

Over the past few days, the Internet governance community has exchanged best practices and debated a wide range of key topics that will continue to pose questions for policy as the Internet evolves — questions extending from infrastructure deployment and its intersection with mobile innovation, to the role of government, security and data protection. All these topics have a place at the IGF and the business community is a firm believer that the forum provides a unique environment to discuss them across stakeholders.

Even early on in the week, this year's IGF was notable for it's a more open and candid atmosphere than usual. No items have been left off the agenda and the pervading issue of surveillance and data use has been talked about openly in discussions, as these topics naturally have a direct impact on trust issues surrounding the Internet.

As issues that impact Internet governance include delicate policy issues that go beyond discussions of technical implementation, there is an ever greater need for a forum dedicated to discussion and understanding, rather than drafting negotiated text. Contentious issues need to be aired in mutlistakeholder environments, allowing for open dialogue without the constraints of negotiating positions via text, which can artificially limit conversation. This is even more important when we consider that conversations at the annual IGF are also replicated in regional IGFs where some of the knowledge and capacity-building is fed back to the regions — not to mention its impact across online channels including social media.

Internet governance issues are now in the mainstream of international policy concerns and there is a growing realization among ordinary individuals that the management of the Internet concerns them — that, as a collective resource, they need to understand its use. At a time when we are witnessing a change in the dynamics between governments and other stakeholder groups, we need to promote greater cooperation amongst all organisations across the spectrum — civil society, private-sector, government, academia and the technical community.

That being said, there is increasing pressure on resources and more calls by some governments and organizations for greater emphasis on multilateral solutions. Business strongly believes in the importance of the multistakeholder model but recognizes that it's not a perfect model and needs to be improved and re-energized. This is especially true in light of new initiatives including the Montevideo Statement and possible Brazil meeting that we have heard more about during the course of this year's IGF.

The global business community welcomes any moves that serve to enhance the multistakeholder model and which encourage greater participation in Internet governance. However, as more detail around what might be on offer in these initiatives emerges, business also feels that it is enormously important to find a structured way to assure transparency and accountability to all stakeholders.

As we all look to bolster the fair and inclusive multistakeholder processes that have served the Internet so well since its inception, it's vital that we do not forget to practice what we preach — that we find a way to involve all stakeholder groups in the development and implementation of these proposals.

By Joe Alhadeff, Chair, ICC Digital Economy Commission/ICC BASIS. As Chair, Mr. Alhadeff helps the ICC Commission on the Digital Economy provide a forum for members to share insights on timely developments in the ICT field. More on ICC BASIS.

Related topics: Internet Governance

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